Europe, Beware of Moldovans Bearing Gifts

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Sergei Ceban Hoping to extinguish a flame of criticism and dissatisfaction from the European Union, Moldovan authorities demonstrate a unique combination of cynicism and political sycophancy, resorting to ostentatious loyalty to the “European choice”. Is Brussels ready to continue to patronize the power parties of Moldova, continuing a long-term game in imitating the story of the European “success” of the poorest country in Europe, or will it finally reject the gifts of the Moldovan ‘Greeks’? The topic of “European choice” once again became the core of the official rhetoric of the ruling coalition in Moldova, where the Democratic Party has the leading role. It is telling that this is taking place against the backdrop of sharp criticism of the acting Moldovan authorities on the part of Brussels itself for the obvious disregard for the norms of democracy in the elections of the Chisinau mayor. From an electoral point of view, the EU’s obstruction coupled with the freeze of microfinance assistance to Moldova in the amount of 100 million euros is devaluing the already low rating of coalition political forces. As a result, to play it safe, the authorities postponed the parliamentary elections that were to be held this autumn to February next year, thus gaining time to adjust the pre-election strategy. Judging by the information flows, the key topics in it will be economic growth, increased social payments, tariff regulation, and also the North Atlantic and European integration. Legitimacy of power in today’s Moldova, as the last three years show, is determined not by the will of citizens, but by geopolitics expediency. The division of society by orientation – to the West or Russia – will determine, among other things, power landscape in the parliament, and subsequently the government. Democrats are betting on the support of Western partners – the European Union and the US, realizing the dangerously high rating of the left political forces, which promise a warming of relations with Moscow. The left are indeed more popular than divided right powers. It seems that the support from abroad can help the Democrats to turn this situation to their advantage, especially since the adopted mixed reform initiated by them allows the Democratic Parties to get additional seats in the parliament, disguising their supporters as independent candidates. An example of how this works is the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, where after the elections a lobby of the Democratic Party was formed from independent deputies. Counting on further support, the Moldovan authorities explain the current criticism of Brussels as political misunderstanding and the struggle within the European Parliament itself. The results of the election of the mayor of Chisinau have been invalidated by the court, the Democrats say, and neither the parliament nor the government can influence it, otherwise it will interfere with the activities of the judiciary, which contradicts democratic principles and European values. Democrats agree that there are problems in Moldovan electoral legislation, but they can be solved with the help of European experts. An ad hoc working group was created in July to analyze the situation with the elections in Chisinau, as the Prime Minister of Moldova, Pavel Filip, informed the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, who for the first time in 2015 publicly called Moldova “a captured state” and repeatedly criticized the selectivity of Moldovan justice. As an illustration of their commitment to European values, the Moldovan authorities used even protests of opposition pro-European parties, one of whose leaders, Andrei Nastase, won the canceled elections in Chisinau. Officials did not interfere with their conduct, but organized the same day a meeting of the pro-government party of Ilan Shor, found guilty in the case of the theft of a billion. At the same time, the police ‘moved’ the right protesters under the pretext of holding official events for the Independence Day. As a result, the civic action did not have the expected impacts, which allowed the authorities to declare that the European opposition lacks broad popular support. At the same time, the US embassy even stated that the actions of the authorities and the police did not contradict the principles of a democratic state. Democrats, thus, scored themselves another political bonus. In parallel, the media began to repeatedly announce the Moldovan authorities’ intention to accelerate implementation of European projects. At first, Parliament Speaker Andrian Candu announced amendment of the constitution with a view to fixing there the European vector, which will be proposed within the autumn-winter session. A similar amendment, by the way, last year was proposed by the leader of the democrats Vlad Plahotniuc, who is called the de facto ruler of the country by politicians and experts (both Moldovan and foreign). Then the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure of Moldova announced the forthcoming withdrawal from the 1992 Agreement on the Coordination of Relations between the CIS Countries in the Field of Electric Power Industry. This is explained by the need to implement the Association Agreement with the EU, which involves integration of Moldova with the unified energy system of the European Union. Romania committed to help with this a year ago, and the EU, the EBRD, the EIB and the World Bank allocated money for the construction of infrastructure. Despite the fact that the technical issues have not yet been fully resolved, Chisinau already now demonstratively announces its plans. It seems that this announcement was a signal not so much for Moscow, as for Brussels. At the same time, the topic of diversification of gas purchases intensified due to the speedy completion of the Chisinau-Ungheni gas pipeline, which is said to allow to buy blue fuel from European suppliers and make a ‘fair’ bid with Moscow for gas price. Where from Europe has cheap gas for Moldova and who will pay the tariff difference for reverse supplies from Romania becomes clear, if we analyze the similar situation in Ukraine. The media widely spread the information that Moldova does not plan to negotiate a new contract with Gazprom. It is noteworthy that the current Moldovan-Russian gas agreement is in effect until the end of 2019, but almost a year and a half before its end, the Moldovan authorities said that they would most likely not renew the contract. Apparently, the only point of such a gas ‘false start’ from the ruling alliance is to hype and appear to the European partners in a favorable light. In a sense, even the recent demonstration actions of Chisinau against Russian troops in Transnistria became a ‘demonstration of loyalty’. Moldova initiated later adopted resolutions on their immediate withdrawal first in the UN General Assembly, and then in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. At the same time, from a practical point of view, the situation around the Russian military presence on the Dniester did not change in any way – most importantly, the Moldovan authorities once again passed through the ‘self-sanctification rite’ to be the closest EU and US allies in the region, and they showed off their determination to continue to fight the ‘Russian threat’. Demonstrative statements in recent months are a new stage in demonstrating loyalty to the conditional ‘West’. And if the EU is referring to adherence to democratic principles and the course towards European integration, then for the US, as we can see, mainly anti-Russian rhetoric is used: the already mentioned demands to withdraw troops from Transnistria, the ban on the broadcasting of Russian TV channels, expulsion of Russian diplomats, and even recommendations to reconsider the status of the Russian language in the constitution. In general Washington welcomes and strongly encourages such a policy of Chisinau. But will Brussels again accept the political homage of the Moldovan democrats, associated with “selective justice” and “captured state”? Will the gifts of “Moldovan Greeks” be preferable to European values? So far, the scales of choice in Brussels have tilted to geopolitical expediency. However, another pan with the facts of Moldova’s critical inconsistency with European standards will be filled in the non-stop mode by the hands of those who are so eager to regain European support.